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February 10, 2007
NL West and NL Catchup
Released INF-R Andy Green so that he could slip off to Japanese Leagues. [12/19]
Signed RHP D.J. Carrasco, OF-L Dee Brown, and SS-B Ronnie Merrill to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/30]
Acquired LHP Randy Johnson and cash from the Yankees for RHPs Luis Vizcaino, Ross Ohlendorf, and Steven Jackson, and SS-R Alberto Gonzalez; signed Johnson to a $10 million contract extension covering the 2008 season. [1/9]
Agreed to terms with RHPs Jorge Julio ($3.6 million) and Juan Cruz ($1.4375 million) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration with both. [1/15]
Agreed to terms with RHP Jose Valverde on a one-year, $2 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/16]
Agreed to terms with LHP Doug Davis on a three-year, $22 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/18]
Agreed to terms with OF-R Eric Byrnes on a one-year, $4.575 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/6]
Mission Accomplished? Making over the rotation so that this team was ready to hitch its young veterans to a quintet of starters capable of propelling this team to a title was obviously the goal, and adding Randy Johnson and Doug Davis through trades kept the Snakes from having to pay crazy silly money for the likes of Jason Marquis. Although the package sent to Milwaukee for Davis was a little more costly, the one sent to the Yankees for the Big Unit was of the affordable variety-Vizcaino's staff filler, and neither Ohlendorf nor Jackson have a ton of upside. The best prospect in the deal was Gonzalez, but putting a shortstop in the Yankees organization is just damning and dooming him to Triple-A for the rest of Derek Jeter's career; that's no way to realize your prospect status if you're already 24 years old. Both Davis and Johnson are something less than automatic sure things, considering Davis' performance slip in 2006 and increasing concerns about Johnson's durability. By pushing much of last year's rotation back down to Tucson or the pen, the Snakes will have the depth that allows them cope with any breakdowns. Credit GM Josh Byrnes for finding a way to make adding a worthwhile pair of veterans possible without getting caught in a financial trap the way, say, the Cubs did.
What Reason Why? There's not much here to make those of us in the boggling classes boggle. It was an eminently sensible winter, with the long-standing rumors of Orlando Hudson's impending trade to one of any number of suitors being scotched by the inifintely more entertaining decision to go for it. I suppose it might make some people scratch their heads as far as the team not signing a veteran outfielder, but Chris Young's going to be all that and a bag of chips in what ought to be a great Rookie of the Year campaign, moving Byrnes and Jeff DaVanon to left.
Obscure Good Move: I guess I like the ripple effect of letting Green slip away, even if he's one of those guys I root for. He gets a payday and some real playing time with Hokkaido, while the move opens up the possibility that the team will keep Alberto Callaspo as its middle infield reserve and possibly organizational soldier Brian Barden as well. Nabbing Romero's interesting, but his prospect status took a beating after a .250/.300/.301 stint at Rochester. He's still only 23, and it looks like he'll join former Brewer Dave Krynzel in a Sidewinders outfield stocked with other people's former prospects.
What's Left to Do? Not a lot. With veterans Robby Hammock and Mark Johnson on the depth chart, the team's probably even covered as far as backup catching in case Miguel Montero struggles. Sorting out who gets to be the fifth starter will be interesting-between Enrique Gonzalez, Edgar Gonzalez, Dana Eveland, and Juan Cruz, they've got a nice group to choose from, solid insurance against any of the front four getting hurt, and the possibility of putting Eveland or Cruz in a middle relief role that could prep them for a shot at replacing Livan Hernandez in the rotation in 2008.
Summary: The Snakes have as attractive a blend of ready-now young talent and veteran solidity as any team in the game. They're ready to hang with the bigger-budget ballclubs down to the wire in what could be a photo finish.
Signed RHP Aaron Harang to a four-year, $36.5 million contract. [2/6]
Signed RHP Bronson Arroyo to a two-year, $25 million contract extension through 2010, with an $11 millioin club option for 2011. [2/8]
I know I've picked on Wayne Krivsky for a lot of things this winter, but relatively speaking, those are niggling details next to the investment the team's new ownership has made in its top tandem of quality starters. There's also the human angle to it, of course, where Arroyo gets a payday to help him overcome feeling chuffed over last year's contract he signed and home he bought in Boston, anticipating that the Red Sox really wanted him. Harang doesn't come with any of that drama, but whatever your particular favorite flavor of support-neutral statistic, Harang and Arroyo were among the top 15 starters in baseball, and PECOTA seems pretty sanguine about the Reds getting value over the lives of those deals. If these sorts of things work out, it's not hard to envision Cincinnati resuming its place on the short list of the country's best baseball cities as far as fan support, a well-run franchise, and a product worth the fans' investments of time, passion, and moolah.
Signed LHP Jeff Francis to a four-year, $13.25 million contract with a $7 million club option for 2011. [11/30]
Signed RHP LaTroy Hawkins to a one-year, $3.5 million contract with a $3.75 million mutual option for 2008. [12/5]
Signed LHP Tom Martin ($800,000) and C-R Yorvit Torrealba ($1.025 million, non-guaranteed) to one-year contracts. [12/13]
Signed LHP Mike Gallo, RHPs Bob Keppel and Oscar Rivera, and C-Rs Geronimo Gil and Edwin Bellorin to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [12/14]
Signed RHP Danny Graves to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/21]
Signed C-R Javy Lopez to a one-year, $750,000 non-guaranteed contract. [1/9]
Agreed to terms with LF-R Matt Holliday ($4.4 million), RHP Rodrigo Lopez ($4.325 million), LHP Jeremy Affeldt ($1.125 million), and CF-L Cory Sullivan ($900,000) on one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration. [1//16]
Sold the contract of UT-R Luis Gonzalez to the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese leagues. [1/18]
Signed RHPs Alberto Arias and Zach McClellan and SS-R Erick Almonte to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/19]
Agreed to terms with RHP Brian Lawrence on a one-year, $750,000 contract with a club option for 2008. [1/22]
Mission Accomplished? With only one year left on Jason Jennings' contract, Dan O'Dowd flipped him for what he could get, but the question for second-guessing might be whether or not this was the best he could get, particularly in this winter's market for starting pitching. That said, it's not a bad package. Hirsh is the real deal as pitching prospects go, with a nice power sinker-slider assortment, supplemented with a quality change, and he's more athletic than most of the very big guys out there. Taveras isn't a lot of people's type of player, but he's that rare flychaser with outstanding gap-to-gap range and a great throwing arm, something you don't find in most of the waterbugs of this sort. He's not a power source; offensively, he's more Juan Pierre or Brian Hunter than you like to see from an outfielder. Still, he's an improvement on Cory Sullivan both afield and at the plate, and if you buy the argument that, because of their environment, they need a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder, well, now they have one. If they get the kind of offensive production out of shortstop and catcher they should from Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta, relative to other ballclubs, this might be an adaptation they can afford without compromising their ability to contend. And there's Buchholz, but between his sketchy command of a changeup and his dependence on a curveball, it seems more likely that if he's going to hack it at all, it'll be out of the bullpen.
What Reason Why? Picking up Lawrence and Lopez might seem like kamikaze runs for both guys' careers, but there should be no guarantees given to Hirsh for his job in the rotation. Lawrence's shoulder is a question mark, and Lopez is probably more properly set for a utility pitcher role, but it isn't like they can really count on Fogg. Consider it a case of digging up some low-end veteran options for the staff. If there's a move to be regretted, it's dealing people with some modicum of talent for Lopez, but the word on minor league relievers without overpowering stuff is 'youneverknow.' Ideally, Hirsh wins a job and Fogg functions well enough in his.
Less explicable was signing up Hawkins for this sort of money. A year ago, I wouldn't be so down on this pickup, but a year ago, Hawkins was somebody striking out closer to six guys per nine, instead of fewer than four. Put him in Colorado, where strikeout rates go down, and you get that many more events with balls in play and potentially bad things happening. I guess he and Graves add some right-handed veteran gravitas to the pen, but it seems more likely to end up money ill-spent.
Obscure Good Move: Getting Luis Gonzalez out of their system. There was never really any there there, so to speak, but for whatever reason, some folks got worked up about him. The team's better off with really moving on, and with the crowded fights in center and at second, with the bench getting stocked with a few of the losers, there really wasn't any reason to keep Gonzo the Lesser. Signing Javy Lopez might work out nicely to the same extent that Todd Greene was useful enough as a sometime power source off the bench, but throwing out only 15% of opposing base thieves (all he nabbed with the Orioles and Red Sox last year) isn't going to help his case. If he doesn't look good, that's what Torrealba is for.
What's Left to Do? Picking a second baseman from among some relatively unexciting options-Carroll, Kaz Matsui, Clint Barmes, and maybe even Omar Quintanilla. I don't know if you even get a good second baseman if you chop them up and cherrypick their best parts. Seeing if guys like Troy Tulowitzki, Chris Iannetta, and Jeff Baker can put exclamation points on last season's call-ups, and cement the jobs of shortstop, catcher, and Brad Hawpe's platoon partner and defensive replacement, respectively. Those really shouldn't be in any doubt, but if anybody has a really bad camp, it'll be interesting to see if the Rockies tell one of them "tough cookies, it's Colorado Springs for you."
Summary: They didn't go big-game hunting, but they secured Jeff Francis, exploited the one year of Jennings they had control over, and seem to be settling into a team built around some solid young talent. Finding a second baseman might end up waiting until they figure out how close this core of talent is to contention-2008? 2009?-and the Hawkins deal won't end up looking good.
Signed RHP Takashi Saito to a one-year, $1 million contract. [12/5]
Signed C-R Mike Lieberthal to a one-year, $1.25 million contract, with a $1.4 million club option for 2008. [12/6]
Signed RHP Jason Schmidt to a three-year, $47 million contract; signed LF-L Luis Gonzalez to a one-year, $7.35 million contract. [12/8]
Agreed to terms with LHP Mark Hendrickson on a one-year, $2.925 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [1/15]
Signed RHP Rudy Seanez to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/22]
Signed RHP Chin-hui Tsao to a one-year, $425,000 non-guaranteed contract. [1/29]
Mission Accomplished? Signing Schmidt presumably gives the club an ace, fronting an already potentially potent rotation. Even if you consider his 2006 season a disappointment, he was arguably the best starter on the market, Zito-inclusive. What's particularly sensible about the move is its duration-where Zito's signed through the next two presidential elections, if Schmidt succeeds or fails or blows out his elbow, in the great scheme of things, the Dodgers won't have this hanging around as a legacy in nearly the same way they did with Darren Dreifort.
On the face of it, you say "two-year contract" and "Mike Lieberthal," and the reflex is to say what a terrible idea this must be. Happily for the Dodgers, the money's not especially steep, helping them fulfill the real goal, which is to make sure that Russell Martin has a backup who isn't in the Bako class. If Martin struggles as a sophomore, or gets hurt, the Dodgers have too much at stake to risk standard replacement-level suckitude. For the money spent, even with the understanding that Lieberthal's not the player he used to be, it's a pretty solid investment. And if, with rest, Lieberthal becomes more valuable as a hitter while making 50 or 60 starts, it's a move that will only look that much better.
What Reason Why? Signing up Luis Gonzalez seems like a waste, especially after this club already made its solid citizenship signing in retaining Nomar Garciaparra. He isn't useless at the plate, but why spend the money and leave Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and James Loney fighting over one slot in the lineup? Garciaparra, Gonzalez, and Juan Pierre will almost certainly end up putting fewer runs on the board than scenarios involving two or three of the kids. The good news, such as it is, is that Gonzo's only under contract for one year, but that's a year where Loney's likely going to have to wait around, and that Kemp's likely to have to spend the majority of his time down in Vegas.
As for paying this sort of money for Hendrickson, consider this an additional penalty for Ned Colletti's misjudgment in going out and getting him in the first place. His usefulness in a utility/swing role is mostly notional, and lefty swing men who can't really start and who don't have any real success in a situational role really don't have a lot of value.
Obscure Good Move: There are a few to pick from. Certainly, where Seanez is concerned, seeing "Traction Action" land another shot at a big league gig warms this old girl's heart, as the Dodgers might have room for him as their fourth or fifth righthander in the pen beyond Saito, Jonathan Broxton, and Elmer Dessens. Whenever he's healthy, of course. Taking a chance on Bigbie at this level of diffident commitment seems about right, but I'm not as excited about Tsao. There's a reason it's a split, non-guaranteed contract, even if he's nevertheless on the 40-man: when you're recovering from scragging both your labrum and your rotator cuff, odds are you won't be the pitcher people remember.
What's Left to Do? In part because of some of the unfortunate veteran pickups, the bench looks to be pretty well stocked, so there won't be a lot of battles for jobs or roles, even at the back end of the roster. Proving that Jason Repko's wheels are entirely healed up would certainly reduce Grady Little's choices to almost none, basically just whether he keeps a twelfth pitcher or Loney. Beyond that, picking between Chad Billingsley and Hong-Chih Kuo for the fifth slot isn't such a bad thing to have to do.
Summary: Colletti filled up the roster with famous people, so however much talent the organization has provided, a lot of it will be back down in Las Vegas, waiting for various old-timers to spring gaskets. It might be a good enough blend to propel the club to a win. It might also be a formula for frustration with the veterans and regrettable deals with the kids. Last year wasn't a cause for encouragement as far as the potential outcomes this time around.
Announced that RHP Jason Standridge elected for free agency instead of accepting an assignment to New Orleans (Triple-A); signed DH-B Ruben Sierra to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/31]
Signed RHP Chan Ho Park to a one-year, $600,000 contract. [2/9]
Park's deal is laden with incentives that might propel him closer to $2.5 million, but I guess we can more basically consider him to be sort of the right-handed variation on an Oliver Perez theme. Basically, as far as assembling a rotation, it means that Willie Randolph and Rick Peterson can divvy everybody up into three groups-the guaranteed group (Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez, and eventually Pedro Martinez), the experienced but flaky group (Perez, Park, and Jorge Sosa), and the young and potentially less-flaky pile (John Maine, Philip Humber, and Mike Pelfrey). From the latter two groups, they'll have to find three starters, and there's an argument to made for all six guys. Ideally, the club won't rely on the same judgment that told them that getting Victor Zambrano was a must.
Agreed to terms with RHP Brett Myers on a three-year, $25.75 million contract. [2/1]
Although the pricing might seem a bit rich considering that Myers had two years to go before he was eligible for free agency, the deal does achieve control of his future through that first year of FA eligibility. As far as the slotting of the contracts in the rotation, this might mean Freddy Garcia's a possible one-year Philly, as Myers' money expands from the $5 million he was offered by the club in their arbitration case for 2007 to $8.5 million in 2008 to $12 million in 2009. Jamie Moyer's signed through 2008, and Adam Eaton through 2009, but we'll see how things play out. If the Phillies win this year, all sorts of things might become affordable, changing the club's financial calculus in subsequent seasons.
Agreed to terms with 2B-R Jose Castillo on a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/7]
Re-signed INF-B Geoff Blum to a one-year, $900,000 contract. [12/1]
Signed RHP Greg Maddux to one-year, $10 million deal with a flex-option ($6 million player, $11 million club) for 2008. [12/13]
Signed 2B-R Marcus Giles to a one-year, $3.25 million deal with a club option for 2008; signed RHP Doug Brocail to a one-year contract; claimed 2B-R Craig Stansberry off of waivers from the Pirates. [12/20]
Signed C-L Pete Laforest to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/3]
Signed LHP Shawn Estes and C-R Todd Greene to minor league contracts with spring training NRIs. [1/13]
Signed LHP David Wells to a one-year, $3 million contract. [1/30]
Mission Accomplished? The balancing act in the infield-exchanging last year's third-base clutterbuck and Josh Barfield's future for Kevin Kouzmanoff and Brian Giles' brother-might lead to a leakier infield defense, but it should replace the departed Mike Piazza's right-handed power in the lineup, and presumably a lot more Bard behind the plate will accrue equally useful defensive benefits. The rotation looks to be improved from their previous reliance on Woody Williams and Chan Ho Park, and while these might be the last stand of two of the game's great painters of the strikezone's seams, put'em in PETCO and you're probably going to see something good. Balancing Wells and Maddux against the studly young trio of Jake Peavy, Clay Hensley, and Chris Young is pretty tasty, and if Wells implodes, Mike Thompson makes a pretty useful fifth starter.
What Reason Why? Some of the arms scared up for the bullpen come with checkered pasts, to put it politely. Scott Strickland and Mike Adams have both had their moments, and their more recent disappointments-they're on the 40-man. Then there's the pity pickup of Doug Brocail, admirable, but another 40-man spot. Former San Diego State star Royce Ring, Justin Hampson, Ryan Ketchner, Scott Cassidy, Heath Bell... it's an interesting group, and new manager Bud Black's earned a fine reputation for turning nothing into something when he was the Angels' pitching coach. It'll be interesting to see what he'll do with this bunch in camp, as far as picking the three or four guys in the pen behind the big three of Trevor Hoffman, Scott Linebrink, and Cla Meredith.
Obscure Good Move: For the money, signing up Cruz Jr. to be the right-handed platoon partner for one of Terrmel Sledge, Paul McAnulty, or Three True Outcomes immortal Jack Cust was a solid little move. As long as they don't kid themselves into making him a regular, they'll end up with a decent reserve.
What's Left to Do? Figure what they're going to do with all the extra bats they have. One of those three lefty-hitting outfielders will stick, but all three should play. How is Bud Black going to spread the playing time? In that light, Russell Branyan and Todd Walker might seem a bit redundant, although if they leave Walker to spot starts at second and first but mostly use him as a contact-with-pop pinch-hitter, while Branyan spots for Kouzmanoff at third and sees some time in the outfield corners, that covers things.
Summary: Wells and Maddux might both be combustible, and there's the big gamble in the infield reshuffle. Tabbing somebody to bat leadoff will be interesting, since there's no one obvious answer. But all in all, Kevin Towers had a plan, executed it, and has a team that should mount a solid quest for a third consecutive division title.
Re-signed 2B-B Ray Durham to a two-year, $14.5 million contract. [12/1]
Signed OF-L Dave Roberts to a three-year, $18 million contract. [12/2]
Signed C-R Bengie Molina to a three-year, $16 million contract. [12/6]
Took it upon themselves to mention that 1B-L J.T. Snow has retired; somebody had to. [12/7]
Re-signed LHP Steve Kline to a two-year contract. [12/8]
Signed RHP Tyler Walker to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/10]
Signed LHP Damian Moss to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [12/13]
Signed DH-L Ryan Klesko to a one-year, $1.75 million contract. [12/19]
Signed LHP Barry Zito to a seven-year, $126 million contract with an $18 million club option for 2014. [12/29]
Designated C-R Justin Knoedler for assignment. [1/4]
Signed RHP Russ Ortiz to one-year, $380,000 deal. [1/9]
Announced the retirement of RHP Tim Worrell. [1/10]
Signed RHP Oscar Montero to a minor league contract with a spring training NRI. [1/16]
Agreed to terms with LF-L Barry Bonds on a one-year, $15.8 million contract; whether he signs it... well, we'll have to see about that. [1/30]
Announced the retirement of C-R Mike Matheny. [2/1]
Mission Accomplished? Brian Sabean was given a lot of room to maneuver, and he took full advantage. He overpaid for Zito, but at least initially, the deal might not be a millstone, as Stickyfingers moves over to the easier league and a ballpark where the three-run homer isn't easily smote, however many people he walks. Later on, well... it should be gruesome enough to warm Huckabay's Giants-hating heart. The rest boils down to the mass assembly of a veteran lineup that makes the grizzled Frank Robinson Giants from the early '80s seems like a collection of veritable babes by comparison. While you can appreciate several moves in isolation-Durham's bat, Molina's general handiness, Roberts' speed-there's a danger of the value of the whole being less than the sum of the parts. This is going to be a terrible defensive team, and old players in such profusion come with considerable risk. Add in losing Schmidt to free agency, and you're left with a crotchety lineup, a weak rotation, a shallow pen. As far as a group of suitable companions for Barry Bonds' death ride to hell and glory, credit Sabean with lining up a relatively famous supporting cast.
What Reason Why? It really does look like Barry Bonds is signed, although there seems to be some sort of disagreement over what the contract means, which hardly bodes well. As ever, the commissioner's swanning about, trying to cast himself as a concerned administrator (if a wee bit belatedly), but that's entirely a matter of rubbery posturing. Bonds' place in history is complicated, whatever his actions-perceived, accused, or real. The fans get that. So too is Bud's-and the fans get that too. Time for a stiff upper lip and a commitment to moving on. Let history and/or the courts decide, and for baseball to stick to baseball. If the man goes to jail, he won't be able to play. If he doesn't, but loses part of his career to an indictment, that borders on an acceptance of guilt before proof of guilt. Who among us would agree to that in our own lives? Love him or hate him, it seems to me that isn't the way our system of justice is supposed to work.
On an even more glum note, I'm sad to see Matheny's career end this way. Long considered one of the game's toughest players, for me losing him to his inability to bounce back from the effects of a series of concussions serves as a reminder that baseball isn't just a difficult game, it's hard on the players. What led to Matheny's end wasn't some mighty collision at the plate or some visible, career-ending injury-it was the tragically unavoidable accumlated result from having his bell rung by one foul tip after another. That's just part and parcel of the job of a catcher, and for all of the improvements in safety equipment, Matheny's fate should serve as a reminder that there's still a need for even better gear for backstops.
Obscure Good Move: Signing Klesko looks like it might pay off a lot more than signing Aurilia will, although he'll need to be platooned and taken out for a defensive replacement after his third plate appearance or so.
What's Left to Do? Not a lot. Sabean's assembled a team with some nice overlaps as far as depth. Aurilia will play a lot of first, but can also be the primary reserve at the other three infield positions. Feliz can handle the outfield corners in a pinch. Randy Winn can play center if something happens to Roberts. As a result, guys like Todd Linden and Kevin Frandsen might get to watch a lot of baseball.
Summary: So much of the Giants' ability to contend depends on this collection of ancients staying healthy and productive, and on the rotation getting good work from Zito and their previous big-money free agent pitcher mistake, Matt Morris. I don't doubt that this team could win 80 or 85 games, but that might only be good for fourth place.
Agreed to terms with OF-R Austin Kearns on a three-year, $17.5 million contract, with a $10 million club option for 2010, junking any danger of an arbitration case for a tremendous amount of time. [2/1]
Well, hooray. I mean, sure, I'm non-plussed, in that one element of the future that I ponder in this year's book is that the Nationals need to make a call on this one way or another, and here they have, while the book's almost back from the printer. That's part of the nature of the beast, though, as far as printing a book-there's a point at which you have to say "done" and put it in the over, so to speak. They sorted out that Kearns is one of their building blocks, and will be someone-along with Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson-they'll fill out a lineup around. In a winter where anticipation over "how bad will that rotation be?" has overshadowed almost everything else, it's nice to note that the front office has its eye on the big picture. Certainly, from PECOTA's perspective, even assuming the option gets picked up, this is a financial coup by Jim Bowden. Like Johnson and Zimmerman, Kearns gives the team a hitter with a broad spread of offensive contributions, so however the unnamed park on the Anacostia plays-probably pitcher-friendly-the Nats will have a good start as far as plating runs.